Yesterday I ate at the newest restaurant in Akron, D.B.A., which stands for Dante Bocuzzi Akron. Bocuzzi is the chef-owner at Dante in Tremont, an Italian restaurant in Tremont with a small but focused menu and excellent food.
The tl;dr version of my review is: great food, bad service (maybe even by opening day standards). For those with more interest and/or attention span, read on.
Like Dante, D.B.A. offers many menu items in 3 sizes, tasting, appetizer, and main. These sizes are a nice feature as they allow you to roll your own tasting menu (unfortunately there isn’t one otherwise) but the names turn out to be a problem. Maybe it was just the server I had, but trying to order an appetizer-sized dish as my entrée turned out to be confusing. I joked with my table that they should name them tall, grande, and venti, because at least when I ask for a grande risotto as my main course a 2 minute discussion with the waiter won’t ensue. We talked circles around my desire to have an appetizer-sized dish as part of my entrée, and I left that one still wondering what size dish I was going to get when because he just didn’t seem to get it.
To be honest, I can’t tell if our waiter was simply untrained, overwhelmed, incompetent, or some combination of the three, but it was pretty bad. I realized something was off when he regimented the ordering by course. Instead of taking the entire order for each person in turn, he made us all order just salads, then just appetizers, then entrees, going around the table three times. This is a rather poor experience (which is probably why no other restaurant I’ve ever been to does this) as it takes far too long and requires too much thought on the part of the diners. I’ve been a waiter, it’s not that hard to just mark what comes out when and take the orders linearly.
As we ordered an appetizer-sized appetizer (not to be confused with a main-sized appetizer or appetizer-sized main dish) to split, the waiter said he’d put it on my tab. I found it a little odd that the waiter was deciding who’d pay for it, rather than asking, but I probably would have offered to do so anyway so I went with it. At least, I assumed, he was splitting the check by person.
That turned out to be incorrect. He was only designating who it would be delivered to. At the end of the night he brought the bill as all one check, without ever having asked how we wanted it split. When we asked him to divide it up by person, he said “I wish you would have told me that before” as if it wasn’t his job to ask, and that he didn’t think he could do it. A friend who ate at another table had a different waiter he had known from another restaurant in Akron, and that waiter told him the POS system at D.B.A. was a… well… P.O.S. (What a horribly acronymed device anyway.) I’m not sure if they just made a bad technology choice, or didn’t spend the time they should have training the waiters to use the system, but either way we had to let him off the hook and just divide the check up evenly.
He had also forgotten to bring a glass of wine that one of us had ordered, yet left it on the bill. I mentioned it to him and he looked befuddled. One of my friends told him not to worry about it and he said thanks because he didn’t know how to take it off. I was annoyed more at the principle than the $10, but it had taken so long to get our checks and cash out that I wasn’t in the mood to argue over it. Still a good waiter there would have insisted on removing it, one way or another, or at least given us gift cards or something of the like.
My waiter had also set a bowl of clams down too hard, causing it to splash little drops of broth all over my shirt, but that one I can forgive pretty easily. Mistakes like that happen to anyone, and it was the first night and the place was packed.
Lest you accuse me of basing my entire impression of the service on just one waiter, I assure you there were other signs of a front of house that has not yet hit its stride. A younger kid who was filling up the water asked our table if we wanted some, then when nobody heard him, stood there staring at us awkwardly for a bit. It’s water. You just fill it up and move on.
They were out of drinks on the drink menu, but the waiter didn’t seem to know exactly which ones. The same was true of the food. There was some confusion as to exactly what fish one of my compatriots ate (one waiter said it was the bass, another snapper) but either it was good. I’ll chalk it all up to it being the first day of service for now and try it again in a couple months.
Still I find strange considering Chef Bocuzzi has another restaurant nearby. He could have had his new staff work at Dante in Tremont for a week or two before the opening. I’m not going to say they’d necessarily be a well-oiled machine by the time they showed up on day 1 at D.B.A., but they’d at least know how to split a check.
Anyway, enough griping about the service. On to the part you care about, the food. You can see the full menu here. The menu is served on the back of a vinyl LP case with a record in it that I really want to pop into a player to see what it says. Hilariously the bread came in a box made from melted Pretenders vinyls, which was hilarious both because it was a subtle dig at Chrissie Hynde (who owned the previous restaurant in the same space that went out of business) and because it is, as far as I know, the only good use for the Pretenders’ music anyone has ever yet found.
D.B.A. is exciting for Akroners because Bocuzzi is the first chef with serious culinary creds to open a restaurant here, and the food shows it. We started of splitting the Goat Cheese, mostly because “zucchini” and “agrodolce” are two of my favorite words. It came with what I think were tempura squash blossoms and the richness of the cheese was balanced out by the sweet and sour zucchini in what might be my favorite (of many) goat cheese appetizers I’ve had.
My drink was a Moscow Mule made with Fever Tree ginger beer. One thing that always bothers me when I order a cocktail (and this is why I’m far more likely to go with beer or wine) is when people mix high-end liquor with crappy mixers. A Hendrick’s and tonic is 75% tonic, yet most bars will take that fantastic gin and pour it into carbonated corn syrup. Or they’ll make an Amaretto Sour out of that disgusting neon green chemical concoction you buy in a tube.
D.B.A, at least on their Moscow Mule, uses the good stuff (you really can never go wrong with Fever Tree) which is a nice touch. I meant to ask if they use Fever Tree tonic too but never got around to it. Either way the Mules were tasty enough that I didn’t mind the exorbitant price.
For my entrée I got “tasting” portions (which are actually quite generous for the price I think) of the Mussels “Hong Kong style”, Arborio Risotto, and an appetizer-sized Pappardelle with Bolognese.
The mussels came in a beautiful broth with chile, cilantro, and lime and a little bit of crab meat. The broth was so tasty I didn’t even mind having to dab it off my shirt from the waiter’s dropping it. I just wish I had been given enough bread to suck up what was left in the bowl. Mussels are a gamble in a restaurant but Chef Bocuzzi (who was in house that night) cooked them perfectly.
The pappardelle was a simple pasta that tasted fresh (I’m guessing they make it in-house) and was cooked perfectly, not overcooked to mush Olive Garden style, topped with a simple Bolognese ragu. It was one of those dishes in the typical Italian style that isn’t fancy and proves that simple foods are sometimes as powerful as those with ten times the preparation involved. I’ll be emailing shortly to see if I can get his recipe. as it’s a much better Bolognese than mine, and mine ain’t too shabby.
The risotto, though, was the star of the show. I’d had Chef Bocuzzi’s poached egg carbonara at his Tremont restaurant and it was incredible, but I think this risotto was even better. At the risk of sounding like every douche bag who has ever watched an episode of Top Chef, I did feel like the risotto was slightly overcooked, and just missing a tiny little bit of bite. I probably would have gone with a carnaroli rather than an arborio for just that reason, but again, it was close enough and I’m not a risotto Nazi, so it was still quite tasty and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. I found out later that the egg was poached sous vide too, which just makes me regret not having bought a Polyscience for 40% off when I had a chance all the more.
Dessert was a poached yellow peach with raspberry coulis on wafers. It was good but everyone was raving about the Crème Brulee with lemon balm steeped blueberries. I’ll definitely try that one next time.
So my overall impression was bad service, probably due to a mixture of a bad waiter and the place still being brand new, but great food. Food-wise D.B.A. has precious little competition in the area. There are some decent second-rate restaurants nearby. The only real fine dining options are steak houses, and while I like a good steak once or twice a year, I prefer food with a little more preparation most of the time.
I’d like to see an actual tasting menu like Dante has in Tremont. I also would love to see some specials, or at least a menu that changes periodically. For all I know Chef Bocuzzi has some or all of those planned.
Assuming I can do so without ruining my nice shirts I’ll be eating there more often and hoping that caliber of cuisine succeeds and catches on in Akron.